A superb Danny Drinkwater strike in the fourth minute of injury time prevented Watford from making it back-to-back wins as table toppers Leicester City fought back from 2-0 down to draw 2-2 at the King Power Stadium this afternoon.
Watford have a habit of starting quickly and they did it again, taking the lead in the ninth minute when Fernando Forestieri intercepted a Troy Deeney shot to turn the ball past Kasper Schmeichel in the ninth minute.
The Hornets then did well in the main to nullify Leicester’s threat and they were rewarded with a second goal four minutes before the interval when Sean Murray fired home from 20 yards after some excellent harrying by Forestieri.
However, the visitors were unable to take a two-goal lead into the interval as Matty James reduced the deficit in the 43rd minute.
But that looked like it was as good as it was going to get for the home side as they had plenty of possession in the second half, but Watford defended resolutely, getting numbers behind the ball, remaining organised and limiting the Foxes to just three on-target attempts in the 90 minutes of normal time.
Although the Hornets were to be undone by Drinkwater’s superb strike, they were to be let down by their game management in the closing stages. The ball could have been knocked into touch on a couple of occasions and there were other instances when the visitors offered their opponents some late encouragement.
Beppe Sannino made two changes as the Hornets sought to end Leicester’s club-record run of nine consecutive league wins.
Rather surprisingly after his impressive performance in the 2-0 victory against Brighton & Hove Albion last Sunday, Fitz Hall dropped to the bench, as did Alexander Merkel. Marco Cassetti moved into the back three, with Davide Faraoni taking his place at wing-back and Murray also returned to the starting line-up.
With no fresh injury problems, it was no surprise that the Foxes were unchanged from the side which won 1-0 at Bournemouth last time out.
It didn’t take long for the first attempt on goal to arrive; inside the opening 30 seconds the ball sat up nicely around 20 yards out for Deeney but his right-footed half-volley had the sting taken off it by a deflection and Schmeichel was able to save with ease.
Interestingly, it was Cassetti who took up the central position in the visitors’ back three and he survived an early scare after getting caught in possession towards the edge of his own penalty area. But Watford were able to clear without any further alarm.
The Hornets were more than holding their own and in the ninth minute they shocked their hosts by taking the lead.
Forestieri won the ball in the Leicester half and worked it to Deeney towards the left side of the penalty area. With not too many options around him, Watford’s top scorer struck a shot which looked to be on target but probably would have been dealt with by Schmeichel. However, Forestieri gambled and flung himself at the shot, re-directing it past the keeper with his head to make it 1-0.
There were suspicions that Forestieri may have been offside but despite some enquiries from the home defenders in the direction of the assistant, most notably from Wes Morgan, the goal was allowed to stand.
Having been caught cold to an extent, Leicester spurned a reasonable chance to equalise with their first opportunity of note in the 12th minute when a corner from the right picked out the largely unmarked Marcin Wasilewsiki but he glanced his header down and wide.
Jamie Vardy was the next Foxes player to have an attempt with an improvised attempt over the top and the Leicester striker also cleared the crossbar with a header following a delivery from the left.
Daniel Tozser took his yellow card count to two in as many matches in English football after he was booked by Martin Atkinson for a clear trip on David Nugent in the 22nd minute. But the Hornets midfielder was soon joined in the notebook by Paul Konchesky after unnecessarily clipping Faraoni’s heels from behind.
And it was the Italian wing-back who had Watford’s next effort, diverting the ball into the side netting after Deeney had headed his side’s first corner of the afternoon towards the far post.
Watford were having a reasonable spell around the half-an-hour mark and their next sight of goal arrived when Gabriele Angella clipped the ball towards the D, Forestieri knocked it down and Deeney chose to his a shot first time but sliced it wide of the far post.
However, Leicester nearly equalised in bizarre fashion in the 33rd minute – and the gusty conditions were entirely responsible.
The home side were awarded a corner on the left which James took. His delivery initially seemed destined for the edge of the six-yard area, only for the wind to catch it but Manuel Almunia was able to readjust and claw the ball out before it crossed his line.
Soon after, the Hornets were opened up down their left as Lloyd Dyer played a one-two with Drinkwater before cutting the ball back across the area to Nugent, who improvised with an acrobatic attempt and put it over.
Watford though, were continuing to ask questions when they could get the ball in the final third and they almost scored a second with their next attempt when a corner was played in for the left, Angella challenged for the ball and then got a second bite at it, hitting a right-footed shot on the turn which was superbly tipped over by Schmeichel.
But with their next effort though, the Hornets were to make no mistake as they opened up a 2-0 lead four minutes before the break.
Forestieri deserves considerable credit for chasing what was effectively a lost cause into the bottom left-hand corner and holding off Ritchie de Laet before feeding the ball back to Ikechi Anya. He in turn laid the it across to Murray, who took a touch before striking a crisp 20-yard low right-footed shot beyond the dive of Schmeichel.
However, the Hornets were unable to take the two-goal lead into the break and within two minutes the leaders had halved the deficit.
De Laet was the creator, advancing down the right before hitting a low cross into the area which James met with a half-volley to dispatch the ball past Almunia’s outstretched right hand to make it 2-1 at the break.
The home side were quickly out of the traps at the start of the second half, winning two corners inside the opening 90 seconds. But their opponents quickly settled down, although they were nearly caught out when Dyer went round Angella on the outside and resisted any temptation to go to ground as the Hornets defender was leaning all over him before cutting the ball back but Joel Ekstrand anticipated the danger and dealt with the threat.
Ekstrand and Almunia then both required treatment after colliding with each other as another dangerous ball came in from the Hornets’ right and in the 58th minute the Hornets keeper needed to race from his area to clear after a Cassetti lapse had almost let in Vardy.
But the pattern of the second half was being increasingly set; Leicester were having a lot of the ball in the opposition half but what was now a five-man Hornets rearguard continued to stand firm and disciplined. What attacks the visitors were to build were increasingly on the counter and they spurned a fine opportunity in the 66th minute.
Having intercepted a pass near the edge of his own penalty area, Ekstrand strode purposefully forward before playing a fine reverse pass to set Forestieri free on the left as Watford broke two-on-two. The Argentine continued the advance as Deeney started to peel off on a run towards the far post but his teammate was unable to pick him out with the past when it mattered.
Sannino made the first change after 66 minutes, replacing Faraoni with Daniel Pudil, but not before Leicester had spurned a good opening when Dyer had managed to squeeze over a cross from the left but Nugent glanced his header wide of the far post.
Nugent then looped another header tamely into Almunia’s arms following another Dyer delivery from the left before Cassetti picked up a needless yellow card for kicking the ball away.
Given the context of the game, there was no surprise at Nigel Pearson’s first change in the 74th minute as Kevin Phillips entered the fray in place of Vardy. A second change soon followed with Riyad Mahrez replacing Dyer.
Schmeichel made a rare save to hold on to an angled Pudil shot but the ball was going wide anyway. But Leicester’s search for an equaliser was starting to look a little futile as the game entered the final ten minutes, with James hitting a speculative effort from 30 yards well wide.
Forestieri’s last act before he was replaced by Hall in the 84th minute was to see yellow for a foul on Morgan, while Pearson played as final card by bringing on Chris Wood for Wasilewski.
Almunia then had to make an instinctive reaction stop to keep out a Phillips header at the far post following a Mahrez shot. It wouldn’t have counted as the offside flag was raised but the Hornets keeper was not to know that at the time.
A minimum of five minutes of stoppage time offered the table toppers hope but they were unable to get the ball into the Hornets half for the first two of those.
Phillips and James then had long-range shots blocked but just as it looked as if the Hornets had done enough they were literally stung by a bolt from the blue in the fourth minute of injury time.
There didn’t appear to be too much cause for concern when the ball broke for Drinkwater 20 yards out to the right of centre but he let fly with a superb half-volley that let Almunia grasping at thin air as the ball flew past him and into the top corner.
Having been pegged back at the death, Watford so nearly let a point slip. First Pudil did superbly to slide in and cut out a low centre that would have left Mahrez with a tap-in and then from the resultant corner, the ball fell for Nugent in space but he turned and fired wide of the far post with the goal at his mercy as the game finished all-square.
Leicester City: Schmeichel; de Laet, Wasilewski (Wood 84), Morgan, Konchesky; Knockaert, James, Drinkwater, Dyer (Mahrez 77); Vardy (Phillips 74), Nugent. Not used: Hammond, King, Schlupp, Logan.
Watford: Almunia; Ekstrand, Cassetti, Angella; Faraoni (Pudil 66), Murray, Tozser, Battocchio, Anya; Forestieri (Hall 84), Deeney. Not used: Bond, Bellerin, Merkel, Doyley, Ranegie.
Bookings: Tozser for a foul on Nugent (22); Konchesky for a foul on Faraoni (24); Cassetti for dissent (74); Forestieri for a foul on Morgan (84).
Attendance: 23,635 (800 away).
Referee: Martin Atkinson.